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Phil Ochs, Tom Paine and American Redemption

Posted on Friday, March 4th, 2011 at 1:43 pm by Bruce E. Levine

In the 1960s, singer/songwriter/revolutionary Phil Ochs was sometimes described as “Tom Paine with a guitar.” Without regard for political correctness, both Paine and Ochs confronted all illegitimate authorities and hypocrisy. America paid them both back by marginalizing them at the end of their lives and ignoring them for decades following their deaths. With Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, documentary filmmaker Kenneth Bowser has helped America take a step toward redeeming itself in terms of its treatment of Phil Ochs, hopefully in the same manner that America eventually redeemed itself with respect to its treatment of Tom Paine.

In their respective eras, Paine and Ochs were the guys churning out the sure-fired material that inspired the troops. No publication did more to spark the American Revolution than Paine’s Common Sense, and his American Crisis helped keep George Washington’s troops from quitting on him. During the 1960s, Ochs supplied major energy for the anti-war movement. Ochs’s performance of his “I Ain't Marching Anymore” during a protest concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention inspired hundreds of young men to burn their draft cards.

Bowser’s movie is true to the Phil Ochs whom I remember as a teenager. That Ochs had a special talent for giving truths power. He knew that liars such as Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson required mockery and laughter, and Och’s humor was far more energizing for teenagers such as myself than the tired harangues of his anti-war contemporaries. But Ochs did not stop with easy targets.

Read the full article on Counterpunch.

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up, releasing in late March 2011.
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